Oregon’s Banks-Vernonia bike trail: Car-free bliss

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VERNONIA, Ore. (AP) - There’s a state of mind known to long-distance hikers best described, I suppose, as “autopilot.”

It’s the moment when walking becomes so fluid you only consider the surrounding forest - trees and breeze and birds - and are barely conscious of moving legs.

You just go.

This zenlike state is easiest to achieve while hiking because there isn’t much to worry about, as opposed to kayaking (look out for that rapid!), skiing (look out for that turn!) and especially biking (look out for that car!).

But every rule has its exception. And for cyclists, the best example might be the car-free bliss of the Banks-Vernonia State Trail.

Oregon’s first rails-to-trail system follows an old railroad bed through prairie and Coast Range on a pathway so smooth it’s easy to slip into an autopilot state where peddling becomes afterthought.

This isn’t to say riding the entire trail’s 42 miles out-and-back is easy - especially for a duffing rider like me - but with an early start and midway meal, the trail’s forest, creeks and birds create two-wheeled tranquility.

“The fantastic thing about this trail is the way it breaks away from the road and heads up into the Coast Range and really stays there the entire way,” said Doug Hopper, who lives in Hillsboro and rides the trail once a month. “There’s no traffic, and being up in the hills and woods is awesome.”

A BIT OF HISTORY

The Banks-Vernonia State Trail didn’t come about by accident.

Beginning in the 1920s, trains hauled logs and lumber over this route from the Oregon-American mill in Vernonia to Portland.

Business kicked into high gear following the cataclysmic forest fires of the Tillamook Burn in 1933 - and the salvage logging boom that followed - but by 1957, the mill shut down. The line was abandoned in 1973.

A second act for the railroad began in 1990 when 21 miles was transferred to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. The route was paved, following the national rails-to-trails movement, and opened to bikers, hikers and horseback riders in 2010.

The route has six trailheads spaced at different points, offering the chance to hike or bike shorter or longer segments. The lack of cars appeals to parents and children, but the trail also is long enough to offer a good workout.

ON THE TRAIL

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